It doesn’t look like much, this concrete dip in the ground, but it represents a lot. It shows faith in women, investment in the future, and independent spirit, and an innovative community. Find out why a few pounds of concrete means so much.
This is a water holding tank in the women’s garden in Dona, a village about 300 kilometers from the Malian capital, Bamako. It’s a pretty new investment, and the community raised money for it, got the work done, and maintain it all by themselves. It’s not very common for communities to do this kind of work, and even less so when it’s going to benefit women farmers.
For Dona, particularly, this is a huge change. The men in community agreed to let women use the land—with support from CARE on conservation agriculture and Farmers’ Field and Business Schools—because it was the worst land they had. They figured they had nothing to lose. So how did they go from thinking that this was a waste, to something that are actively investing in? Because they saw changes in their own lives, and found a way to keep them going. And it all started with a little boost from CARE.
The first big change people saw is that even on this degraded land, the improved agriculture techniques that CARE and AMAPROS (the local partner we work with) were teaching were doubling production and making it possible for everyone to eat vegetables in their homes. Women’s workload watering crops was cut in half because of the techniques for protecting against drought. Not only that, but by using market information and keeping records of their own investments, women were able to sell the extra produce at a profit, something they had never even considered measuring before. More, better food at home, and extra money in the budget will make anyone sit up and take notice.
The second change was that the Pathways project brought men and women together to talk about social norms, and what gender inequality was costing their community. Men were shocked to hear about the amount of work that women had to do every day, and took steps to lighten the load. Some bought carts so their women could have more mobility and an easier time collecting water. Some men took over the task of collecting water altogether. And the community as a whole decided that they could have even better results if they had a better watering system in the garden.
The final boost came from a small investment in infrastructure. The community wanted a pump for irrigation, and CARE was able to link them to another project that was building solar pumps. With the right paperwork and connection, the village got a pump. But the pump only covered part of the field. So the community raised money themselves to extend the irrigation system into 5 more cisterns, which made access to water easy for all of the women farmers. Suddenly, not only were women having to water half as much, but the water itself was much closer to their plots of land.
The community knows that letting other people invest isn’t enough—they themselves have to work to guarantee their future. So each woman pays about a dollar a year into the common fund to make sure that if anything breaks, they have the money to fix it. People in Dona know a good thing when they see it, and they are making sure that they will have it for a long time to come.
Contributed by Emily Janoch